Alex Marshall headshot, smilingAlex is 12 and lives with his family in Halifax. He says that people have been much more understanding since he was diagnosed at the age of six. Alex is very positive about being autistic and wants to help other people understand more about autism.

As a preface, I generally don’t ‘go out’ to shop, and if I do it’s almost always a low-key, local type thing – think buying uniforms or small batches of groceries. This isn’t because I’ve been ‘driven out’ of shopping, but because buying online is simply more convenient and often cheaper than making it into a big trip. 

The shopping I do on a more regular basis, I’m generally indifferent towards it. If I’m in the middle of another activity, or am having a bad day, I’d probably get irritated, but I don’t think that’s particularly extraordinary. I dislike the sensation of being in a crowded, claustrophobic area but I wouldn’t say it particularly debilitates me – most of the time, more of an annoyance than something that would stop me from going shopping. That’s not to say crowds can’t be difficult, especially under a tight time schedule or, again, on a bad day. But I, again, don’t think that that’s a particularly extraordinary feeling.

For me, shopping can (occasionally, less so now) prove difficult. This could be for a variety of reasons, which just shows the quite extraordinary array of things that could potentially go wrong. If I were to pick out a particular example, when I was younger, I really struggled with abrupt additions to the ‘shopping timetable’. Me and my family would, say, go to Tesco’s to pick up dessert, bread and some groceries, and my mother would want to go and look at something else. Now, I wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of shopping in the first place, and from my understanding a logical routine had been disrupted. As a rigidly logically-minded individual (as in, I would solve problems and look at situations through a primarily logical rather than emotional perspective), this usually added to my general feelings of distaste already present with the shopping experience and provided a source of stress, perhaps causing wider issues. 

Thankfully, in more recent times I have managed to reduce this to more of an annoyance than a source of exceptional stress; however, it just goes to show how such a small thing can so affect a shopping experience (this being an extraordinary trait amongst the non-autistic public, it also provides another instance where additional, professional training on the subject is required).
Better understanding of autism, amongst both shopping staff and the public, will make a huge difference – and this is what the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour is trying to achieve. Autistic people are regularly misunderstood at a public and professional level, and this causes several problems. For one, lack of understanding naturally promotes stereotypes and causes uneducated judgement to be passed. But, perhaps more pressingly, misunderstanding prevents staff from providing appropriate help to their customers. Some autistic people may require additional aid when shopping, to prevent meltdowns and promote a better, more inclusive shopping experience. 

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